10. Azar Lawrence
As a mid-1970s sideman for McCoy Tyner, this saxophonist regularly drew comparisons to his predecessor Sonny Fortune and the departed John Coltrane. His own Bridge Into The New Age from 1974 for Prestige carried on the latter’s tradition in fine form and remains a well-respected record of its time. Yet by the decade’s end, Azar Lawrence had transitioned into funk and disco like so many of his peers, playing on records by Le Pamplemousse and his own short-lived Chameleon. His return to the jazz world on this side of the millennium came in tribute to Trane, something that continued through 2016’s Frontiers with Al McLean. As such, his latest effort Elementals keeps jazz’s spiritual idiom front of mind, though it hardly qualifies as a retro affair. Backed by a quartet that includes fellow ’80s boogie session man Munyungo Jackson and Leno-era Tonight Show drummer Marvin Smith, Lawrence explores Eastern avenues on “Solar Winds” and “African Chant,” coming back stateside for “Koko.” A faithful tribute to Coltrane’s 1962 take on the standard, “It’s Easy To Remember” glides along with class and grace.